The gas giants Jupiter and Saturn will dominate the nights of August, since the sun’s glow will largely hide Mars and Venus. The sharpest observers can also find the innermost planet, Mercury, as it will make its best morning appearance of the year. And despite the interference of the Moon, amateur astronomers can enjoy the meteor shower of the Perseids.
So mark these dates on your August calendar and don’t forget to marvel at the sky.
August 1 to 7: noctilucent clouds
In the northern hemisphere, the first week of August will offer the last opportunity of the year to enjoy one of the most colorful spectacles of translucent clouds.
These dim “luminous night clouds” appear on the border with space when crystals form around dust particles that fall into the Earth’s atmosphere. Due to its extreme altitude, the clouds will be illuminated even if the Sun has set from the point of view of people on the surface, which will produce glowing ribbons high in the sky during twilight. But as the days shorten as autumn approaches, the translucent clouds will vanish.
August 2: Alfa Capricórnidas meteor shower
August is famous for the arrival of the Perseids, one of the most prolific annual meteor showers. But since this year that famous rain will have to face the glow of the full moon, the best way to quench the thirst for shooting stars will be to contemplate lesser rains, such as the Alpha Capricoridae.
The peak of this meteor shower will arrive in the early hours of the morning, near the constellation Capricorn in the southern sky. From a dark place in mid-northern latitudes, about six meteors per hour should be observed. However, these rhythms can reach twelve meteors per hour for observers in the southern hemisphere. And let’s not forget to keep our eyes wide open in case there are a few larger and brighter meteors.
August 9: Mercury in the morning
In mid-August it will be the best time of the year to observe the tiny Mercury, the most elusive of all visible planets without the help of telescopes or binoculars. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, so, from Earth’s perspective, they usually remain in the lower part of the horizon and can be hidden by the sun’s glare when it rises or sets.
On August 9, look for the planet in the east half an hour before the local sunrise, combing the area with binoculars to determine the exact location of Mercury. The faint planet will be about 10 degrees above the horizon, equal to the height of the fist held with the extended arm, and will look like a distinctive stellar object between the Procyon star in the lower right and the twin stars Castor and Pollux in the part Upper right.
August 9: Jupiter and the Moon
Look for the growing gibbous moon, which will form a very colorful conjunction with the bright Jupiter on August 9. The cosmic duo will dominate the night as it glides through the southern sky. Look closely at the bottom right and you will also see the great orange star Antares, part of the constellation Scorpio.
August 11: Saturn and the Moon
When night falls on day 11, an almost full Moon will be placed next to a golden stellar object, the ringed planet Saturn. The two celestial bodies will form an impressive couple within the Sagittarius constellation. As an observation challenge, try to spot the distinctive blue star Nunki, which will be found under the Moon. Saturn, the Moon and the star will form a neat triangle, while the color contrast between Saturn and the star at 228 light years will be quite remarkable.
August 13: peak of the Perseids
This famous annual meteor shower, famous because it produces up to 60 meteors per hour, will reach its peak on day 13. But with the full moon a few days from the peak, the lunar glow will be an obstacle to sighting the Perseids. The show is expected to be quite meager, with almost a dozen meteors per hour in dark conditions.
All in all, it will be worth contemplating shooting stars, since the Perseids also produce pretty bright fireballs. The best time to try to see them will be the two hours before the local dawn, when the meteor shower will reach its maximum activity. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation of the same name, Perseus.
August 14: Venus in superior conjunction
This day, Venus will be directly behind the Sun from Earth‘s perspective, placing itself in what astronomers call higher conjunction. From this point forward, the planet will appear to move away from the solar disk and will begin to rise in our skies, away from the sun’s glare. Thus, Venus will be visible as an “evening star” at the end of September.
August 17: peak of the Kappa Cígnidas
Try to observe this small meteor shower, which will radiate from the constellation Cygnus when it reaches its peak, on the 17th. Although only less than six shooting stars may be seen per hour, the radiant point will be almost above the heads of most observers from the northern hemisphere, so the rain can be observed from almost anywhere.
August 28: the Moon and the Manger
For a great observation challenge, try to find the thin crescent moon when you meet the star cluster of the Manger, a swarm of stars about 610 light years away. Both objects will be seen with binoculars in the lower part of the eastern horizon, between one hour and half an hour before the local sunrise.